Team Alaska, made up of over 400 athletes, coaches and volunteers, won the most ulus at the Arctic Winter Games held from March 15 to 22 in Fairbanks.
Alaska hauled in 190 ulus, including 67 gold. Yamal was next with 134 ulus.
And the 28 coaches and volunteers from the Kenai Peninsula were in the midst of that effort, including taking center stage in Alaska sweeping the three gold ulus in hockey for the first time.
The Alaska bantam boys and junior girls already had wrapped up gold ulus when the midget boys went for gold on March 22.
The game turned out to be a storybook ending for assistant coach Terry Eubank of Kenai and Kenai Central junior Jake Eubank and senior Trevor Wagoner.
It didn’t look that way heading into the third period, when Northwest Territories had a 4-1 lead.
Alaska cut the gap to 4-3, then with about a minute and a half left, Eubank threw the puck to the front of the net and it went in. But the puck went in off teammate Stoshie Skorulski’s skate, so it was waived off.
Eubank said having the tying goal waived off so late in the game didn’t cause his confidence to waiver.
“I was too worried, because that was about 20 seconds after (Camron) Walker scored to make it 4-3,” Eubank said. “I knew we’d get more chances, but I didn’t know if we’d score.”
With 38.7 seconds left, Eubank threw a puck at the net after Tanner Schachle had dug it out of the corner. It went through the goalie’s legs to tie the game.
Alaska then took a penalty late in regulation, and Eubank and Wagoner helped kill the penalty off, with Wagoner nearly scoring short-handed.
The next shift, Eubank and Wagoner went out with Gabe Rankin. Rankin won a battle for the puck deep in the zone and slid it in front to Wagoner, who ended the game with a backhand with 6:41 left in overtime.
“I thought it was a pretty fitting ending to all of the hockey stuff me and Trevor have been through,” Eubank said. “We’ve played together 13 years, and we’ve never won a state comp tournament.
“We always lost, and exactly what happened with us winning happened to us three or four times when we lost. It was nice to have something fall the right way for us.”
And even nicer that Terry Eubank, on the bench for so many of those tough losses, was there to see his son and Wagoner go out in style.
“Jake and Trevor have played together since they were 4, and I coached them for many, many years,” Terry said. “It was bittersweet because it’s the last time I’m coaching to coach my kid, but I couldn’t write a better way to go out.
“I’ll remember it forever.”
The Eubanks are veterans of the games. Terry has been involved in the last five games as a parent, with Jake playing the last three and his oldest son, Dominick, playing the two before that.
This is the second games at which Terry has coached, and he served as the finance chair for the host society when the games were held on the Kenai Peninsula in 2006.
Terry said Fairbanks did a great job as host.
“I personally think Fairbanks is the best sports town in Alaska,” Eubank said. “There’s just tremendous community support up there.”
Most of the hockey was held at the Big Dipper Ice Arena, home ice of the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Terry estimated that 700 people showed up for the gold ulu game.
“I think it is the best rink in Alaska,” Eubank said. “It has what they call stadium seating, so the crowd is right down on the glass.
“If you get 500 people in the Dipper, it’s a ton of energy. It’s just an old rink with a lot of character. It’s a great barn.”
Jake, who got an ulu for the first time in three games, agrees.
“When I scored to tie it, I’ve never been in such a loud place,” he said. “Then when Trevor scored, it was even louder.”
Eubank finished the tournament with three goals and an assist, while Wagoner had a goal and two assists.
Kenai Central teammates Dalton Dosko and Ross Hanson also were on the team, with Hanson notching four goals during the tournament.
Homer’s Antony Kuzmin also had a goal and two assists.
“Anton was easily the funniest kid on the trip,” Jake Eubank said.
The midget squad was just 1-1-1 in the round robin, but in the last round-robin game against Yukon, Alaska came back from a 5-1 deficit in the third period to forge a tie.
Terry Eubank said coach Adam Powell challenged the team before that period, and the squad responded.
“They stepped up and we scored five goals to actually take the lead at that point,” Terry Eubank said. “That’s when the kids came together and started playing.”
Terry said he hopes the Eubanks aren’t done at the games yet, thanks to his daughter, Brenna.
“My daughter plays hockey,” he said. “Hopefully she’ll be a junior female in a couple of years.”
There also were Peninsula connections on the bantam squad that defeated Alberta North 5-1 for the gold ulu.
The group was coached by Rick Pitta of Homer, with Jakeb O’Brien of Kenai and Robert Larson of Homer on the team.
Pitta said he has coached at the Junior A and college levels, but this is the first time he coached at the games.
“I played my college hockey at the University of Alaska Fairbanks,” Pitta said. “It sounded fun.”
And it was fun.
“Fairbanks did a phenomenal job,” Pitta said. “The whole city was on lockdown catering to the Arctic Winter Games.”
As memorable as the times on the ice was hanging out at the elementary school where the team was staying.
“There were probably 12 other teams there from all types of sports,” Pitta said. “Everyone walked around trading pins and talked sports despite any language barriers.”
Pitta said he coached Larson in Homer this year and that the forward represented Homer well. He said he just met O’Brien, but that he made him one of the captains because he is a good player and a nice kid.
The Peninsula also played a major role in the seven golds, three silvers and five bronzes that Alaska received in Dene Games.
Seward’s James Wardlow was a Dene Games coach, while Randy Standifer Jr. of Tyonek won gold in the junior male stick pull and bronze in the junior male finger pull and junior male pole push; Soldotna’s Christina Glenzel won gold in the junior female pole push and bronze in the junior female stick pull; Kenai’s Julianne Wilson won gold in the juvenile female pole push and silver in the juvenile female stick pull; and Ryan Glenzel won bronze in the junior male pole push.
Christina Glenzel, a senior at Kenai Central, has now earned 12 medals in four games.
“I just thought it was weird being in Alaska because I’m so used to it being in Canada,” Glenzel said. “I saw a lot of old friends and made a lot of new ones.”
Glenzel said the gold medal in the pole push was gratifying. Teams of four use a 20-foot-long, 7-inch-round pole to try and push the other team out of a circle.
The pole is not made of dried wood. The wood is freshly cut, and heavy.
“It’s really heavy,” Glenzel said. “You have to rely on other people. You can’t get it off the ground yourself.
“They save it for the last one because with injuries, you are wiped out after it.”
Making matters worse, the push takes place in the snow, so footing is precarious.
“I still have huge bruises up and down my arms,” Glenzel said.
But it is events like pole push that may give Glenzel an opening to keep competing in the games. She is aging out of the junior category, but there is talk of eliminating the juvenile category in favor of an open category on the women’s side. It’s already been done on the men’s side.
Amber Glenzel, Christina’s mom, said some events are dangerous for 12- to 15-year-old girls.
“There were a couple of broken ribs in the pole push,” she said.
Amber said her son, Ryan Glenzel, who won a couple fair play pins, will probably compete in the games in 2016 in Greenland, which warmed up for hosting by taking the coveted Hodgson Trophy for best overall sportsmanship at this games.
Christina also may go as a coach.
“They’re talking about making an open women’s division,” Amber Glenzel said. “If that’s the case, maybe her and I will compete in open women’s.”
Peninsula athletes, coaches and medalists
• Kenai’s Mekhai Rich competed in junior male Arctic Sports.
• Sterling’s Matthew Daugherty competed in juvenile male badminton.
• Soldotna’s John Smithwick competed in junior male basketball and won a silver medal. The squad finished 4-0 in round robin and defeated Nunavut 79-78 to make the gold medal game, but then lost 88-77 to Northwest Territories. Smithwick had 21 points for the tournament.
• Nikiski High School graduate Zach Hall served as coach for biathlon. The team got a gold, eight silvers and five bronzes.
• Soldotna’s Andrea Krol won a bronze medal in juvenile female indoor soccer. Alaska lost to Alberta North 4-1 in the semifinals after going 2-2-1 in the round robin. Alaska then beat Yukon 2-1 for the bronze. Krol had one goal in the tourney.
• Ninilchik’s Kelli Boonstra served as a snowshoeing coach, with her team getting four golds, four silvers and three bronzes.
Her daughter, Riana, got two of those golds. She won the 2.5- and 5-kilometer juvenile female cross country events.
• Jie Gao of Homer coached table tennis, with the team winning five bronzes. James Gao of Homer won bronze in juvenile male singles and bronze in juvenile male doubles.
• Kenai’s Jason Diorec coached volleyball.
Bailey Jones of Soldotna and Maxwell Dye of Kenai were on the junior male team.
That squad finished 4-6 in the round robin, lost 3-0 in the semis to Alberta North and lost 3-2 in the bronze ulu game to Nunavut.
Alaska volleyball did notch an ulu in junior female play, with Soldotna’s Cheyanne Laber helping the cause. The squad was 6-4 in the round robin, lost 3-0 to Alberta North in the semis, then beat Northwest Territories 3-0 in the bronze ulu game.
• Seward’s David Lorring was a wrestling coach for the always dominant Alaska team. This games, the wrestlers came away with 20 golds and three silvers.